JetBlue abandons back-to-front boarding in return to 'new normal'
When the pandemic came stateside, airlines worldwide began implementing a host of anti-coronavirus measures.
This included enhanced cleaning procedures, electrostatic spraying between flights and modified boarding processes.
Roughly one year later, and JetBlue will become one of the first carriers to end a major safety measure it implemented due to the pandemic. On Monday, the New York-based airline stopped its back-to-front boarding procedure, which was designed to minimize the amount of passing through the aisle.
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JetBlue explained the move to TPG in a statement, as follows:
At JetBlue we have promised to continue to evolve our Safety from the Ground Up program as we understand more about the coronavirus. We continue to work within public health guidelines and take clinical guidance from own medical experts to ensure we are doing everything we can to keep our customers and crewmembers safe in this next phase of our “new normal”.
With these resources as our guides, we are returning to our grouped boarding process. It has become clear that mandatory face mask use and the hospital-grade air filtration on board every JetBlue aircraft are the keys to greatly reducing the risk on board, lower than other public settings. We will continue to disinfect commonly touched surfaces, offer sanitizer and wipes to customers, and remain focused on keeping our crewmembers healthy through safety protocols and screening.
Of the major U.S. airlines, Delta and United are still boarding passengers from the rear forwards. American Airlines isn't modifying its boarding groups. Southwest Airlines doesn't assign seats, but it's splitting up boarding into groups of ten.
Going forward, JetBlue will board passengers by group, as it did before the pandemic. Pre-boarding will begin for customers with disabilities, followed by Mosaic elites and those seated in Mint. Group A is reserved for those who've splurged for extra-legroom Even More Space seats, followed by active military personnel and customers traveling with small children. Then, the remaining passengers will board in Groups B, C, D and E.
Related: You may never board a plane the same way again — because of coronavirus
The move comes as the pace of vaccinations rises across the U.S., with President Biden recently promising that all American adults will have the option to get vaccinated by the end of May.
While modified boarding procedures have been in place since March, the deplaning process across most U.S. airlines is still largely a free-for-all, despite flight attendants pleading with passengers to get up in small groups.
JetBlue's "Safety from the Ground Up" anti-coronavirus program still includes a variety of other measures, including more frequent sanitizations, the use of HEPA filters, mask mandates and reduced onboard service.
Along with ditching the modified boarding process, JetBlue will no longer offer hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to customers before boarding. Going forward, those will be handed out as travelers enter the plane.
Related: Travelers may now be breaking the law by refusing to wear a face mask
JetBlue was one of the handful of carriers blocking middle seats for added space and comfort during the height of the pandemic. The carrier ended its capacity cap on Jan. 8, leaving just Delta as the sole U.S. airline to continue blocking seats.
While JetBlue may be one of the first to resume traditional group-based boarding procedures, other COVID precautions, including the face-covering mandate, are likely here for the long-haul.
Wearing a mask on public transportation is now federal law, so don't expect airlines to roll that back anytime soon.